Inside a triangle formed by the cities of Plasencia, Trujillo and Cáceres, in the center of the province of Cáceres, is the Monfragüe National Park. The first natural area that was protected in Extremadura and one of the points of greatest ornithological interest in Spain.
Monfragüe was declared a Natural Park in 1979 to prevent the eucalyptus plantations from destroying the native forest, it reached the category of National Park in 2007, and since 1991 it has been a Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA) and a Biosphere Reserve since 2003. So all its habitat, whether flora, fauna or cultural heritage, is well protected.
When we visit it, we must know that we are entering the home of the black vulture, since one of the largest populations in all of Europe lives here, but also the black stork, the griffon vulture, the imperial eagle, the eagle owl, the Egyptian vulture or the short-toed eagle, among many other bird species. And it is not by chance that the International Ornithological Tourism Fair is held here every year. So it is an ideal place for those who enjoy birding in the countryside with binoculars in hand.
A visit under the gaze of vultures
Monfragüe is a National Park for all audiences and can be seen in many different ways. That is, if you want to make a quick and comfortable visit, you can. And if you want to get complicated and get into nature for hours, too. The road that takes you to it, the EX-208, allows you to comfortably reach several of the park’s most beautiful points by car and you will only have to park in the designated areas, lean out and observe.
One of those essential places to visit is the one known as Salto del Gitano. Without going any further, it is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the country, ideal for ornithology fans and even for the uninitiated, because here the number of vultures that spread out in front of us and above us is overwhelming, in addition to black storks, Egyptian vultures and imperial eagles. Its great rocky mass, 300 meters high over the Tagus River, is one of the most characteristic images of Monfragüe.
Not far away is the best-known and most visited monument in the entire reserve: Monfragüe Castle. A small fortress built at the beginning of the 9th century and of Arab origin, but little remains of its original construction as it has been rebuilt on different occasions. Of the five towers that it had, only the homage tower is preserved, completely restored, and the remains of a smaller cylindrical one. Next to it is the hermitage of Monfragüe, inside which is kept the carving of a Byzantine virgin from the 12th century, also known as the Virgen de Monfragüe, and which motivates a pilgrimage every year. Going up to the castle is highly recommended, you will learn about the legends that its walls tell and you will enjoy the best panoramic view of the entire park. In high season it is not allowed to go up to the castle by car, but if you can, we recommend that you do this ascent on foot regardless of the time of year. You will enjoy the environment more, the birds and it would not be uncommon for a deer to cross your path.
And if from the castle we follow the EX-208 in the direction of Villarreal de San Carlos, shortly after passing the Salto del Gitano and crossing the Tagus, to our right is the Puente del Cardenal, another of the most striking places in Monfragüe. It is next to the confluence of the Tagus and the Tiétar, it was built in the 15th century by order of the Bishop of Plasencia and played a fundamental role in facilitating communications for centuries. Of course, you will only see it if the water level of the river is low enough, because if not, it is possible that you will find it submerged.
Hiking trails for walking Monfragüe
Both the Salto del Gitano and the Castillo de Monfragüe and the Puente del Cardenal can be visited by car. But if you want to delve deeper into Monfragüe, the park has three fundamental trails with which to immerse yourself in its nature: the red route, the yellow route and the green route. Although there is actually many more routes that run through Monfragüe.
The red route It is the most complete of all and starting from Villarreal de San Carlos, you go through the Salto del Gitano, the Castle, the Puente del Cardenal and the Fuente del Francés, joining three circular sections. Completing it takes about 5 hours and is of medium difficulty.
The yellow route stays north of rivers and does not cross them. It is 8.9 km long and being of low difficulty can be completed in about 3 hours. It reaches the Saltos de Torrejón dam where you can enjoy the Tajadilla viewpoint, and in addition to pasture and scrubland, it also lets you see ash and alder trees.
The green route It is the shortest and most accessible route of all, it measures 7.9 km, it is easy and can be completed in two and a half hours. It starts from Villarreal de San Carlos, it is circular and offers us an important sample of different types of vegetation characteristic of Monfragüe. It reaches Cerro Gimio, where some remains from Roman times are still preserved, and has several alternatives with which to reduce or soften the route.